A flaky reputation can confuse and frustrate colleagues at work and friends in your personal life. For example, suppose you always cancel plans at the last minute and regularly avoid or forget urgent Slacks, texts or emails. In that case, you will gradually become known as a careless person people cannot rely on.
“The danger of coming across as flaky is that people will stop trusting your ability to follow through or stick to a commitment — which means that they may not include you on important initiatives or projects,” said Mary Abbajay, president of leadership development consultancy Careerstone Group. “In the workplace, we need to be able to count on people holding up their end of the bargain. Being seen as flaky is a career derailer.”
Although this reputation can be hard to shake, it’s possible to change it. This begins with understanding where your need not to respond or show up for your colleagues is coming from.
Here are four different common forms of flakiness and small but significant ways you can challenge yourself to follow through on your commitments:
1. If your flaky behavior is constantly being late, be firm with yourself and others about when meetings have to start and end.
Flakiness often stems from simply being disorganized and less conscientious of others’ time.
Rachel Wilkerson Miller, editor-in-chief of Self magazine and author of “The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People,” said one small way she thinks many people flake is by showing up late for meetings.
“It’s not the end of the world to be a few minutes late here and there. But if you’re chronically late and people are always waiting for you or wondering if you’re going to show up, it’s worth taking responsibility and planning your days accordingly,” she said.
Miller recommended blocking out time for a dedicated lunch break, scheduling meetings that end five minutes before the hour, or padding meetings with long-winded colleagues who like to chit-chat with an extra 10 minutes on the calendar.
It can also mean being direct with people about when you need to leave for another commitment. Miller suggested learning to confidently say, “I’m so sorry, but I have to head to another meeting,” when the clock is ticking.
When you are late despite your best efforts, being less flaky means owning the consequences of your tardiness. “Apologize profusely and thank the other person for waiting,” Miller said. “That shows you’re aware of the problem and goes a long way toward engendering good feelings.”
2. If your flakiness is being avoidant, try taking a baby step toward the task you’re running from.
When you’re feeling avoidant or find yourself procrastinating, it can help to do the smallest thing possible to move a project or task along, said Lauren Appio, a psychologist, executive coach and consultant specializing in mental health at work.
“For example: Haven’t responded to an email for a few weeks? Commit to just opening the email, then reading the email, then drafting a response,” she said. ”Own your lapse gracefully and then focus on getting back on track.“
It can also help to rope in reinforcements to hold yourself accountable for your flaky tendencies.
“When you have the urge to keep an issue or concern to yourself, let that be a signal to share it with someone,” Appio said.
3. If your flakiness comes from constantly changing your mind, write your ideas and tell people when you’re “thinking out loud.”
Being overly impulsive and frequently changing your mind can gain you a flaky reputation, Abbajay said. To manage your co-worker’s expectations about your ideas, she recommends letting them know when you are just “thinking out loud” or brainstorming.
“Curb your impulsiveness by explaining the ‘why’ behind your requests and ideas. Take a moment to think about how your impulsiveness will impact others and your reputation,” she said.
And if you know you frequently change your mind, “then take a moment to write out your ideas — pros and cons — so that you are more intentional and thoughtful with your communication,” Abbajay added.
4. If your flakiness stems from perfectionism, give yourself a pep talk about the value of reaching out to others for help.
Wanting to be perfect can cause you to anxiously avoid co-workers’ requests until you get what they are asking for just right. Shame is an under-appreciated source of flakiness, Appio said.
She said that when you worry about appearing incompetent, you often try to figure things out independently instead of raising the issue with others. “But then, [you’re] at risk of engaging in the perfectionism-procrastination-avoidance cycle, which builds even more shame.”
Once you get caught in this shame cycle, issues become more daunting, and you may put them off even longer, leaving your colleagues even more confused about where you are and what exactly you are doing.
“This can leave you avoiding other people associated with the project to avoid confronting your own shame and embarrassment,” Appio added. ”[You] can also get stuck trying to furiously fix it on [your] own as the deadline approaches –– all while avoiding emails –– or hoping that everyone just forgets about it all.”
If this sounds like you, Appio said you could challenge this all-or-nothing thinking causing you to shut down with a pep talk. Instead, tell yourself, “You can be dependable and reliable and still need to ask for additional help or push deadlines back sometimes! In fact, being known to raise issues early makes you more trustworthy.”